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Car Seat Guidelines

Being a parent isn’t always easy. Choosing a new family car can be quite a challenge - there are a lot of things to consider, including safety, space and affordability.

Safety is naturally a top priority, so making sure your children are properly secured in the correct kind of child car seat is one of the first checks you should make. But what are the car seat laws? Should the seat be rear-facing or not? These are the sorts of questions ALA GAP Insurance have sought to answer with these guidelines to the laws surrounding child car seats and booster seats in the UK.

Why are child car seats needed?

Most cars are designed to naturally accommodate adults and older children. Standard seat belts in cars are less effective for younger children for this reason. Should a child be secured in a normal car seat using an adult seat belt, there is a chance of the child slipping under the belt in the event of a crash, due to the lap strap being raised too high over the child’s stomach. The adult belt could also cause severe injuries to the child if they’re strapped in and an accident occurs. Additionally, failure to ensure that a child passenger is in the appropriate child car seat has a fixed penalty fine of £100. If the case is taken to court, those responsible could face a fine of up to £500. But this is a small price to pay – safety whilst driving is vital. Until the child is 14 years old, legal responsibility for their safety as a passenger falls upon the driver, so it’s important to be knowledgeable about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to child car seats.

Using a child car seat or booster seat

Children in the UK must use a child car seat either up until the age of 12 or up until they reach a height of 135cm (approximately 4 feet, 5 inches), whichever comes first. When choosing a car seat for a child, make sure that it is EU-approved. This is indicated by a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle. Only these EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK. Of course, every child is different, so it’s important to shop around for seats first and preferably find a retailer that has staff trained in the choosing and fitting of child car seats. Things to consider include:
  • You can choose a seat based on either the child’s height or weight. Height-based seats, otherwise known as ‘i-Size’ seats, MUST be rear-facing until the child is over 15 months old. Once they are beyond this age, they can use a front-facing seat.
  • If opting for a weight-based seat, there may be multiple types you can choose from based on the child’s actual weight. These are as follows:
  • 0kg to 9kg -- Lie-flat or ‘lateral’ baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness.
  • 0kg to 13kg -- Rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness.
  • 9kg to 18kg -- Rear- or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield.
  • 15kg to 36kg -- Rear- or forward-facing child seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield.
(Source: Once you have your child car seat, your child must use it for every single journey by law, no matter the length of the journey.

Fitting a child car seat

Unless your child car seat is either specifically designed for use with a lap seat belt or fitted using ISOFIX anchor points, it must only be used if your car’s seat belt has a diagonal strap. Additionally, any front facing airbags in the car MUST be deactivated before fitting a rear-facing baby seat in a front seat. Any side-facing seats in a car must also NEVER be used for fitting child car seats. Make sure to also check when purchasing your child car seat that it actually fits inside your car properly. Ask a trained member of retailer staff if possible to assist you with this to ensure that the measurements align properly between child seat and car seat.

Exceptions: What if the correct child car seat isn’t available?

While it is the law to have your child use their child car seat for every journey, there are a few exceptions. A child aged 3 or older can use a regular adult seat belt but ONLY if ALL THREE of the following conditions are met:
  • The journey is unexpected
  • The journey is necessary
  • The journey is over a short distance
If the child is aged under 3 years old, then they cannot be taken on a car journey even if it is unexpected unless BOTH of the following apply:
  • The child is a passenger in a licensed taxi or minicab
  • The child travels on a rear seat of the vehicle without wearing an adult seat belt
All children aged under 3 must travel in a child car seat as applicable. If there are already two child car seats in the back of your car with no room for a third child car seat/booster seat, then the third child must travel in the front seat in their correct child car seat if aged under 3 years. If the child is 3 years old or older, then they can sit in the back using an adult seat belt. Again, though, it is sensible to be wary of the risks this can entail despite the fact that there was no room for the child’s appropriate seat. If the child is travelling in a vehicle not equipped with seat belts, then they may travel in the back of the vehicle without a child car seat or seat belt but ONLY if they are aged 3 or older. This only applies if the vehicle was manufactured without seat belts. Children aged under 3 years old cannot travel if no seat belts are present in the vehicle – they MUST be in a child car seat at the bare minimum. As such, this is incompatible with vehicles lacking seat belts.

Checking your seat’s condition and replacing seats

As child car seats are often being taken in and out of cars on a regular basis, it’s unsurprising that they sustain an amount of wear and tear over time. It is recommended that they be replaced either according to the manufacturer’s instructions or every five years. If the seat is used less frequently, store it somewhere out of direct sunlight where it’s unlikely to receive any unintentional damage. In the event of a crash, the child car seat should be replaced afterwards even if there is no visible physical damage. It may have sustained damage internally that would cause the seat to offer insufficient protection in the event of a second crash. An insurance claim should usually cover any replacement costs. Seat belts and their attachments should be thoroughly checked for any damage, especially if they were in use during impact. Though extremely difficult to judge, it may not be necessary to completely substitute the seat for a new one if the following applies:
  • The seat was not in use by a child at the time of the impact
  • The impact was at a very low speed
  • There was little-to-no physical damage to the exterior of the car
If you have any doubts about any of these things however, it’s better to be safe than sorry and replace the child car seat. You can find some of our recommendations for child car seats here. Visit ALA Connect to read more Guides today.